The wooden spoon not an option for this cook

THERE is nothing Aurriender Belewa loves more than cooking, so being picked as one of South Africa's six Kitchen Queens by a television reality show was right up her alley.

Belewa, 39, is the Eastern Cape participant who was chosen from 1500 women nominated nationwide to compete in SA's Kitchen Queens, which airs on on Sunday evenings.

The Mdantsane businesswoman and her five counterparts from other provinces were given a series of weekly challenges which involved setting up community events and conjuring up delicious dishes to cater for them. Speaking to Weekend Post from her compact pink house in Mdantsane's NU 9, Belewa said she was determined to be crowned the show's ultimate Kitchen Queen because coming out tops meant winning a state-of-the art mobile kitchen. So certain is she of winning, that she is already having a wall built around her property to contain the fully equipped kitchen on wheels which will make catering for funerals and weddings that much easier.

"It was a dream to be chosen to be a Kitchen Queen," said Belewa as she stirred a huge pot of umqosho (samp and beans) on her stove. "Cooking is my passion. It is my work and my hobby and I also loved all the cameras. I think I was born a kitchen queen!"

Belewa, who runs a catering company called Themba Aurie Trading Enterprises from her tiny home kitchen, said while cooking ukutya kwexhosa (traditional Xhosa dishes) is her forté, she also loves to create mouth-watering pastas.

"I grew up in this house and learnt to cook from my granny. She taught me to make samp and beans and how to cook vegetables like peas, broccoli and cauliflower. She was a domestic worker during the day and in the evenings she cooked for us. Now my daughter Rufaro, 15, is learning from me. She is my kitchen princess."

While she often spends her days making huge pots of food for government department and municipal functions, Belewa is fervently community conscious and spends Fridays providing nutritious meals for residents in her neighbourhood affected by HIV/Aids.

"I work for an NGO called Kukhulu HIV and Aids which visits people who need to be cared for by washing, feeding and collecting their medication. I visit them at their homes and make them healthy lunchboxes which include cabbage, carrots and spinach so that at least on that day they have a healthy meal."

And, because she is well known in her community, Mdantsane's kitchen queen roped in everyone she could think of to carry out the challenges set out by the television show.

Her first challenge, which was broadcast last Sunday, called upon the show's kitchen queens to organise an entertainment event in their communities for which they were allocated R15000 each. Undaunted, Belewa set about arranging entertainment, décor and cooking delicious plates of steaming beef stew, pap and white samp with mushrooms, all of which were washed down with litres of homemade ginger beer. Tomorrow night, viewers can watch the plucky entrepreneur organise a market day at a taxi rank, giving local potters, beaders and other crafters an outlet to sell their goods and giving her an opportunity to sell vetkoek, pancakes and other market day treats.

The show's format allows for each kitchen queen to be mentored by local celebrities and in Belewa's case, the person helping her through her challenges is former boxer Vuyani "The Beast" Bungu.

The former world boxing champion who was born in Mdantsane, is not only well-connected, but also a good friend of Belewa's.

"It was fun working with him. He loves food and he motivated me through my challenges and also helped me with networking. His name opens doors."

Now that shooting has ended and the show is on air, Belewa is rapidly gathering celebrity chef status in East London.

"People at the taxi rank, at church and at gym are recognising me from TV and they are calling me the kitchen queen. I hope they all vote for me to win because I really need that mobile kitchen."

SA's Kitchen Queen, which is sponsored by Knorrox, can be seen on tomorrow at 6.05pm. - Barbara Holland